The title above may seem like an obvious statement, it is one that I see forgotten about all too quickly by dog trainers. Although I imagine it is a relevant lesson regardless of what industry we work in. As we become more skilled, those skills start to become second nature. In dog training, we develop proper body language, exceptional timing and keen observation skills. As our technical skills increase, we don’t even think about them as we perform them. I think most of us have forgotten about our initial struggles with handling dogs and gaining the mechanical skills to train them, and because of this we can become more easily frustrated, and even harder on our clients then we should.
I recommend that we repeat the mantra of ‘they are not dog trainers’ daily. It is so easy for us to forget and it is an important lesson to remember. I encourage my team to think of this often and reiterate it throughout the entire dog trainer apprenticeship program with my new students. I have always taught this within my apprenticeship program, but it was these new trainers and students of the program that showed me how important this lesson is, and is one that more trainers need to remember. It became more obvious as I listened to these students and new trainers constantly approach me to tell me what they noticed clients were doing wrong. This was sometimes appreciated, but for the most part they had unrealistic expectations for where the students should have been.
Learn to lower your expectations. This is nothing against the clients, but do not expect perfection with their handling, timing or mechanical skills. What we expect for ourselves as trainers, cannot match our expectations for our clients. Choose what you feel are important aspects of each skill for them to have a good understanding of first. As their skills improve, you can increase your expectations, but start slow. For example, I do not worry much about timing in the beginning, as I find with coaching and more time, this begins to improve. I see the same with saying the cue only once and their body position (unless it is making the dog nervous or uncomfortable). The dog can still learn and I have never seen these impede their ability to gain the skill. Choose what you feel you can back off of and just remember not to expect perfection.
We also forget how nerve-wracking dog training can be, especially in a group class environment. As trainers, we tend to be excellent at recognizing stress in dogs, but I think too often we forget about the other end of the leash. The students are probably nervous, may be embarrassed about their dog’s behaviour, so are likely to make mistakes in their training. Keep in mind that they are not trainers to ensure you are being kind and patient and not passing any judgement on their skills. This will allow you to be more successful with your training and in turn help them to be more successful with their their dogs! It will boost their confidence and enable you to demonstrate a higher level of empathy, which will also assist with their commitment to the training. So next time you are feeling frustrated, judgemental or impatient with your client, remind yourself of this and ensure you are not expecting too much from them.
Do you have any ways you set your client up for success or have adjusted your expectations? Do you have other skills you are more lenient of with a client but would expect from a trainer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!